Communal computing, part 2

Communal Computing’s Many Problems

Chris Butler
2 min readJul 20, 2021
Microscopio de tres cuerpos (source: Biblioteca General Antonio Machado)

If the devices aren’t designed with communal computing expectations in mind, they’re destined for the landfill.

In this next article about communal computing we walk through five problem areas: identity, privacy, security, experience, and ownership.

As technologists, we often call these weirdnesses “edge cases.” That’s precisely where we’re wrong: they’re not edge cases, but they’re at the core of how people want to use these devices.

There are key questions for each of these areas:

  • Identity — do we know all of the people who are using the device?
  • Privacy — are we exposing (or hiding) the right content for all of the people with access? What about children?
  • Security — are we allowing all of the people using the device to do or see what they should and are we protecting the content from people that shouldn’t? What about biometrics?
  • Experience — what is the contextually appropriate display or next action?
  • Ownership — who owns all of the data and services attached to the device that multiple people are using?

If we don’t reconsider how these devices are designed and built they will keep getting recycled. I hope you find this post helpful in understanding the problems.

See the first post for the history of how we got here:

Recap of all articles

  1. Communal Computing — How do we build devices that are shared by default?
  2. Communal Computing’s Many Problems — Where user-centric computing goes wrong
  3. A Way Forward with Communal Computing — Do’s and Don’ts when Designing for the Community